Iqaluit’s musical ambassadors

Aqsarniit choir performs in Ottawa, brings Nunavut to Cape Breton



IQALUIT — Thirteen-year-old Noodloo Pishuktie says she was surprised nerves didn’t get the best of her during the Aqsarniit Quviasuttittijiit performance in Ottawa over the Canada Day weekend.

“Just singing O Canada on Canada Day… it was really nice and it went fine,” she says, reflecting on her adventure in the South.

Pishuktie and 23 other girls of the performing group from Aqsarniit School in Iqaluit headed south June 27 for the 2001 Unisong Festival in Ottawa. The five-day festival brings together students from across Canada to sing patriotic music.

When Governor General Adrienne Clarkson saw the choir perform here in 1999 she invited them to represent Nunavut at the 2001 gathering. After raising nearly $20,000 on their own and scraping up another $20,000 in sponsorships, the group was off on a musical whirlwind tour.

“The girls were dying of the heat – it was 30-plus,” says Carol Horn, one of the choir’s two directors. “The thing that was lovely was that three of them had never been on a plane nor seen a tree before, so that was just phenomenal.”

“For me they went from not even being able to carry a tune in a handbag to singing on national TV and singing in the National Arts Centre, and they just took it all in stride,” Horn says. “Any fears they had they just covered with concentration and performing, and they were lovely, they truly were.”

In addition to a one-hour performance with other choirs at the National Arts Centre, CBC asked them to sing with Susan Aglukark in a noon-hour show on Parliament Hill.

“That was a big, huge wonderful event because the girls, on rehearsal day, got to spend about an hour sitting around with Susan visiting and talking,” Horn says.

Pishuktie says meeting Aglukark wasn’t quite what she expected. The famous Arviat-born singer was nice, she says, but was busy speaking with all the choir members and having her photo taken with the girls.

After a week in Ottawa, seven of the choir’s fiddle players went on to Cape Breton, N.S., for a 10-day music camp at St. Anne’s Gaelic College of Celtic Arts and Crafts.

The folks at the college were so impressed with the girls that they offered two scholarships for next year’s camp. Horn says a committee has been formed to decide who will take advantage of the offer.

The fiddlers are part of what used to be the Iqaluit fiddle group.

“This was an opportunity to go and find out more about the whaler music, because that’s where the fiddle music comes from in the North. But it was a new experience, it was a new way of fiddling and certainly a new way of accompanying on the piano for us,” Horn says, chuckling. “Yes, I went and took fiddle lesson and it was most humiliating.”

Twelve-year-old Naomi Eegeesiak returned to Iqaluit July 13, and says even though she’s been fiddling for almost five years she learned a lot from the trip.

The girls stayed in a residence at the school and began every morning with Gaelic prayers and singing before attending classes of their choice. Eegeesiak took fiddling classes as well as weaving, Highland dancing, and step-dancing.

She says choir members taught other campers Inuit drumming and a few Inuktitut words.

Since many of the girls are advancing to high school this fall, teachers and parents are meeting to consider basing the choir away from the middle school, so high school students could still participate.

“They’re just so interwoven, they’ve just become such incredibly strong advocates for each other as well as for the North, it’s got a life of its own now.”

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